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Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute
This battle was part of the ongoing warfare between the Dakota Sioux and the Chippewa and their Metis allies. The following account is from the Compendium of History and Biography of Polk County, Minnesota. Maj. R. I. Holcombe, Historical Editor; William H. Bingham, Central Editor. Minneapolis: W. H. Bingham & Co. 1916: 23-26. Chahpah again sought to make peace with the Chippewas. He induced his white brotherin-law, Col. Robert Dickson, “the red-headed Scotchman,” to act as mediator. Col. Dickson's wife was Chahpah’s sister. At the Beaver's request, the Colonel sent a swift courier to Flat Mouth (Esh-ke-bug-ecoshe) with a message from the Sioux chief denying all participation in the late war party of his people, and especially denying that any of his warriors had killed the two cousins of Flat Mouth. He also invited the Chippewas to meet him in another peace council at Col. Dickson's trading post, which was on the Minnesota side of the Red River, at or near "La Grande Fourche," (the Grand Forks) for the purpose of smoking the peace pipe and re-establishing and strengthening good will between their respective people. Flat Mouth accepted the invitation and, taking 30 of his best warriors with him, set out for the Grand Forks. He arrived in due time at Dickson's trading post, where he found four Frenchmen in charge of the establishment, Col. Dickson being absent. On the next day Chahpah arrived, but with only two of his Yanktonnais as a body guard. Flat Mouth refused to smoke the peace pipe with Chahpah, and the Sioux chief then realized that his treachery had become fully known and was to be punished. He was undismayed, however, and told his sister, Mrs. Dickson, that if he had to die he would go like a “brave Dakota.” That night it rained heavily and the thunder roared, but amid the tumult the Chippewas could hear the death song of Chahpah as he chanted it amid the gloomy surroundings in the trading house of his brother-in-law. The Chippewa warriors wanted to kill him and his companions out of hand, but Flat Mouth forbade them. He said they might kill the Sioux, but must not "shed blood on the steps of these white men, nor in their presence."
Then he added : “You know my heart has been sore since the death of my cousins, but though their murderers deserve death I do not wish to see them killed. Though it is my doing, I shall not be with you.” The next morning early Flat Mouth departed for Gull Lake, and the three Sioux, brave to the last, set out for Lake Traverse, guarded by the Chippewa warriors, who had murder in their hearts and eyes, as an escort. Out on the prairie the escort shot the hapless and helpless chief and his companions, took their scalps, cut off their heads, and ran swiftly with the bloody trophies until they caught up with Chief Flat Mouth. Sha-wa-ke-shig, who was Flat Mouth’s head warrior, killed Chahpah and took his scalp. The chief's American medal, which he wore conspicuously on his breast, was taken by Wash-kin-eka, or Crooked Arm, a Red Lake warrior. This incident occurred in Polk County, perhaps a mile below the present site of East Grand Forks. Colonel Dickson was greatly exasperated when he learned of the killing and the mutilation of his Indian brother-in-law. He sent word to Flat Mouth that thenceforth the smoke of a white man's trading house would never more rise toward the sky from the camp of a Pillager band of Chippewas. The Pillager chief laughed at the threats, and afterwards, in relating the story to Warren, he said that the traders continued to visit and trade with him as usual, and that his village continued to grow larger, "notwithstanding the words of the red-headed Scotchman." But these traders were not the agents of Col. Dickson, who refused to trade with the Pillager chief and injured him in every way he could. Perhaps his treatment of the chief in this respect alienated Flat Mouth from the British interest and conduced to strengthen his predilections toward the Americans. During the War of 1812 Col. Dickson was the principal agent of the British in Minnesota. He recruited scores of Indians from the Sioux and Chippewas and sent them to fight against the Americans. Some of these red mercenaries served with the British Army as far to the eastward as in northern Ohio. But Chief Plat Mouth remained firm in his friendship toward the Americans, although he knew but little about them; he persistently refused to fight them in aid of the British, and was true to the promises he made Lieutenant Pike in the council of Leech Lake, February 16, 1806. Dickson sent the Prench Canadian, St. Germain, from Fort William to Leech Lake, and made rich presents to Flat Mouth to induce him to lead the Pillager band into the British camps, but Flat Mouth sent back the wampum belts, etc., with this message: "When I go to war against my enemies, I do not call upon the whites to join my warriors. The white people are quarreling among themselves, and I do not wish to meddle in their quarrels. I do not intend to ever strike a white man or even break a window in his house." (Warren, p. 369.) The Yanktonnais received the news of the killing of their chief with horror and indignation, and swore vengeance against every living Chippewa thing. The Beaver (or Chahpah) was succeeded by his son Wah-uah-tah (or the Charger), previously mentioned, and who became one of the most influential and celebrated warriors and chieftains of the great Sioux nation. He was so celebrated and well known among the whites that his name was given to one of the original counties of Minnesota Territory, in 1849. Wahnatah County was about 60 miles wide from north to south, and extended from the mouths of
the Crow Wing and the Clearwater westward to the Missouri. During his military career the great chief amply revenged the death of his father by repeatedly striking bloody blows upon the Chippewas of the Red River. After the killing of the Beaver, active warfare was renewed between the Sioux and the Red River Valley Chippewas. Less than a month after the tragedy, Wah-nah-tah started from Lake Traverse, with a large party of Sioux warriors, to go into the Chippewa country at and about Red Lake. At the same time, a body of Chippewas, headed by Chief Wash-ta-do-ga-wub, started southward to attack the Sioux at Lakes Traverse and Big Stone. They were largely Red Lakers, although Plat Mouth and a detachment of his band were with the party. Nearly opposite the mouth of Goose River, originally called by the French, “la Riviere Outarde,” or the River of the Canada Goose, in what is now the southwest comer of Polk County, a little north of Neilsville, the two armies met. Two of the Chippewa scouts, in advance of the main force, were suddenly fired upon by the Sioux and one of them was killed. The Sioux then rushed forward and a bloody fight ensued. The Chippewas were taken somewhat unawares and the Sioux pushed them back to Sand River,1 after a series of stubbornly contested en-counters. The Chippewas “dug themselves in” at the little river by letting themselves down behind its south bank and by digging rifle-pits and improvised breast-works. The battle lasted till dark, when the Chippewas, believing that they had the worse of the fight, crossed the Sand River to the north and hastened toward their wigwams. They carried their badly wounded along and threw the bodies of their dead into the river, to prevent them from being scalped and otherwise mutilated. One Chippewa warrior, named Black Duck, particularly distinguished himself by killing and scalping seven Sioux. He was a Red Laker and his name was given to the lake on which he lived, and which is a dozen miles south of Red Lake and is the source of Black Duck River. In recent years a railroad station on the Minnesota & International was established near the lake and a town laid out called Black Duck. The Sioux, too, retreated during the night, and thus there was a military spectacle, often seen where white men's armies were the actors, of two hostile forces running away from each other after a battle. The Sioux soon returned and cared for their dead and sent scouts after the Chippewas without results.
The data which warrants the assertion that the battle was at Sand River is reasonably clear, but yet there have been no tangible evidences of a deadly conflict there. And if the bones disinterred by Prof. Moore at Crookston were not relics of a battlefield, what were they? True, we have no account, and not even a legend, of an Indian battle at the Crookston mound, but many a battle between aboriginal tribes has been unrecorded and its victims gone “unhonored and unsung.” It is possible that the stream here mentioned as the Sand River should really be called the Red Lake River, and that the battle took place at the present site of the City of Crookston.
It may be that the mound on the south bank of the Red Lake, about three-fourths of a mile from the center of the city, marks the site of the burial place of the Sioux that were killed in the action. The bones found by Prof. Moore and his scholars in this mound about 25 years ago may have been those of Wah-nah-tah’s slain warriors; they could not have been those of Mound Builders. After the Chippewas retreated the Sioux may have gathered up their dead in a group and heaped the earth over them, as was frequently their custom in finally disposing of their dead.